Norris puffed on his pipe: “It means, Lord Albert, that the prosecution have offered to reduce the charge from one of Attempted Murder to one of Breach of the Peace.”
Inside the offices of Baxter and Bruce (Writers to the Signet) Norval Norris puffed away, Edward Kane took notes, and Lord Albert looked even more puzzled than before: “It simply makes no sense. We were on top of a ruddy great hill with no-one else there. Whose ‘peace’ were we ‘breaching’, then?”
“The Queen’s peace, Sir Albert, the Queen’s peace.”
The old nobleman shook his head: “I have had the great pleasure and privilege of meeting Her Majesty on a number of occasions, and I can assure you that she has no interest in gun-play at the top of Calton Hill.”
Norris continued: “Given that the original charge was one of Attempted Murder, Lord Albert, then we appear to have had a sizeable mountain reduced to a barely visible molehill.”
The old lord thought for a moment: “What would you do?”
NP Norris puffed on his pipe: “Lord Albert, I have spent hundreds – perhaps thousands – of hours in courtrooms. The only thing of which I am certain, is that it is impossible to predict the outcome with any jury. The Crown offer here is very, very reasonable…”
“And what is the likely penalty?”
“A fine, perhaps. You have no previous criminal record. Admonished, possibly. Or the Court could defer sentence for a period for good behaviour…”
The old nobleman sat back in his chair and considered this: “And what is the maximum penalty?”
“The maximum penalty?”
“For Breach of the Police, or whatever the devil it’s called…”
“For Breach of the Peace?” At this point, Edward Kane noted that Norris had begun pulling at his side whiskers. Something that he generally did when he was nervous: “I have told you the likely penalties, Lord Albert.”
The old gentleman was irate now: “Don’t play the lawyer with me, sir. I asked for the maximum penalty here. For Breach of the Whatever-it’s-called…”
“Well Lord Albert,” Norris nodded, “in the High Court… the maximum penalty… for Breach of the Peace…that would be Life Imprisonment.”
Lord Albert looked stunned for a moment. Then burst into peals of laughter: “Oh Mr Norris, Mr Norris – the whole affair would make a stuffed bird laugh…”
The consultation was fruitful, if only because Lord Albert gave clear instructions: first, that the Crown offer of the reduced charge was refused. Second, that the Lord Advocate himself should be stuffed.
The Trial: Day Five
When Kane arrived at Parliament Hall that morning, he found Norval Norris waiting for him again, smoking his pipe before the statue of Walter Scott.
“Ah – Edward!” Norris smiled: “Apparently, the Dean would like to speak to us. Both of us. Shall we go in together?”
Rab Lennox, Dean of the Faculty of Advocates said very little. He stood with his back to the others, looking out of the window. He reminded Kane of a condemned prisoner, looking out at the last sunrise.
Charles Cod was finishing his account of the current state of play: “…and the further offer to reduce the charge has been refused.”
The Dean continued to look out of the window, his back to the Advocates: “I told you to fix this, Charles.”
Cod stole a glance at Norris and shook his head: “It would appear that some things are beyond repair, Dean of Faculty.”
The Dean turned to face them: “Well, earlier this morning I had the Lord Advocate in here. And the Lord Advocate himself…”
“…and the Lord Advocate himself has reviewed the evidence in this case…” Charles Cod was standing up and addressing the three judges on the bench, “…and has, in his discretion, decided that there should be no further proceedings in this case. In fact, the whole matter was raised as a warning to the lieges at large that duelling in public will not be tolerated and will invariably result in prosecution.”
And with that, the large and stately Charles Cod lowered himself into his chair (with as much dignity as he could muster in the circumstances).
Lord Wallis looked around at the other judges at his sides. All were smiling now. He turned to the old nobleman in the dock:
“Lord Albert Arthur, stand up.”
Lord Albert stood up.
“The Crown has withdrawn the libel against you. We find you Not Guilty of Attempted Murder. And Lord Albert…” the judge smiled, “…Lord Albert – don’t do it again!”
And with that, there was a great laugh and a cheer from the public gallery. The last thing that Kane saw was the old nobleman being surrounded by well-wishers almost shaking his hand off, and then Sir Albert leaving the courtroom – arm-in-arm with Captain Harry Street.
Ross Macfarlane QC has written The Scotsman Christmas story every year for the last ten years. His Scotsman story “Mr Charles Dickens and the Tale of Ebenezer...Scroggie” was chosen as the featured fiction by the international organisation, the Dickens Fellowship in 2017. His novella “Edward Kane and The Matter of Honour” is set in Edinburgh in the same period, the mid-19th Century and has been specially commissioned by The Scotsman. Illustrations by Lesley-Anne Barnes Macfarlane.